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The Boston Globe

Theater & art

Opera Review

BLO’s ‘Butterfly’ insistently, lyrically dramatic

The interesting thing about Giacomo Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly,” with which Boston Lyric Opera opened its season on Friday, is how both the title character and the piece itself generate their stature out of sheer zeal. Butterfly’s all-consuming faith in the eventual return of Pinkerton, the caddish American naval officer she weds, burns bright enough to cast dramatic shadow on the character’s essential simplicity. Likewise, the plot is formulaic and predictable — few denouements come with more aggressive foreshadowing. But Puccini’s faith in his skill rivals his heroine’s devotion: “Butterfly” might be melodramatic, but so brilliantly, ruthlessly melodramatic as to summon, almost by coercion, a tragic dimension. And mostly, BLO’s new production had the good sense to keep that dramatic purity unsullied.

Director Lillian Groag added a short Japanese-drama-flavored prelude — Noh masks and drums — briefly suggesting a more radical cross-cultural translation. But by the time Butterfly made her entrance through a screen of spinning Japanese parasols, it was clear that the staging would err on the side of conventionality. Still, if the production didn’t say anything new about the opera, it reiterated the old verities with lucid storytelling, the focus of each scene’s action clear. Marie Anne Chiment’s costumes were appropriately sumptuous; Robert Wierzel’s lighting was especially good, tracing emotional shifts in ways both subtle and splashy. John Conklin’s elegant set stretched a horizontal stripe across its paper walls, as if to imprint the entire opera with the horizon line that Butterfly scans for Pinkerton’s return.

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